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140Philosophy and Literature development. Price's statement on Forster^ view of India as a country where "everything is ambiguous" (p. 300) is important; his understanding of Mrs. Moore and Godbole seems superficial. What has been suggested by interesting theories and an impressive list of authors is marred by simplistic assumptions whenever Price fails to control his overview . An overview is always an exciting process but it carries with it the danger of misleading generalization. Whitman CollegeMichael McClintick The Literary Speech Act: Donjuán withJ. L. Austin, or Seduction in Two Languages, by Shoshana Felman, translated by Catherine Porter; 150 pp. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983, $19.50. One of the most extensive subliteratures provoked by deconstructive thought focuses on the unlikely figure ofJ. L. Austin. It began, as so many have, with a few pages by Derrida, who comments on Austin's lecture series How To Do Things with Words in his essay "Signature Event Context" (now in Margins of Philosophy). Felman's Le Scandale du corps parlant, published by Seuil in 1980 and now conscientiously translated into English, takes its place as the longest and most elaborate attempt to do a deconstructive reading of Austin. Or rather, with Austin, since Felman contends, unlike her predecessors, that his text is already deconstructive. Felman's explicit intention in The Literary Speech Act is to commit a tour de force, byjuxtaposing radically different texts, disciplines, languages, traditions, and issues. The protagonist in this drama is Austin. First, he is made to play comic to Emile Benveniste's straight man, since Benveniste argued mat the distinction between constative and performative utterances, proposed and then "deconstructed" by Austin, could be maintained. Next, he is confronted with (Molière's) Don juan, who emerges as the archetypal user and abuser of speech acts, while Austin himself assumes the guise of philosophical seducer, promising his readers knowledge, but leaving them in queer culs de sac, amidst piecemeal observations whose only power — though a significant one, Felman claims — is to unsettle and discomfort us. Finally, he encounters Lacan, a fellow-humorist who also wanted to make problematic notions like truth and reference by appealing to desire, action, error, and the unconscious; the emphasis here is on the forceful whimsicality of Austin's writing and the dependency of his arguments on terms like "happiness," "(in)felicity," and "misfire." There are cameo appearances by the likes of Freud, Nietzsche, Bataille, Artaud, Lewis Carroll, and Kierkegaard, the idea being to characterize Austin as another of the currently modish iconoclasts. This is till absurd, evidently — mere argument by association. Completely missing from Felman's study is any sense ofthe context or purpose ofAustin's work. There is only passing , inadequate mention of Russell and Wittgenstein, none of RyIe, Ayer, or Strawson — the thinkers, in other words, whose positions Austin was actually addressing. Unlike some deconstructive commentators on Austin, Felman has read his Philosophical Reviews141 Papers, but the possibility that there might be some divergence or tension between those papers and the lectures is not considered, except for the internal undecidabilities that deconstructive readers always seem to feel obliged to find spread homogeneously through any corpus. Selective quotation is Felman's basic technique, and such inconveniences as Austin's very conservative views on truth, his belief in the efficacy of convention, and his attitude that philosophy should be a cooperative, progressive enterprise are ignored. Someone who knew nothing about Austin's work would not know much more about it after reading The Literary Speech Act. There are, nevertheless, two features that make Felman's book worth reading. The analysis of Molière's play in terms of speech acts is effective and serves, along with Stanley Fish's analysis of Coriolanus in "How To Do Things with Austin and Searle," to suggest that the field of drama criticism, somewhat neglected by literary theory, could profit from speech-act theory. She is also right in insisting that the big literature on Austin (deconstructive or otherwise) has not done justice to the playfulness and irony of his writing style. What she fails to do is draw believable consequences from this insight: she ends up comparing Austin to Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and Lacan, a tribute...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 140-141
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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